We’ve all felt it. That moment when the hair on your arms stands up straight and shockwaves ripple down the back of your neck. And we all know it. Dance music needs to mature. Talk about the derivative, formulaic sound of the Beatport Top 10 has become so commonplace that YouTube videos are being made about it. Coupled with the tragedies that have hounded EDM events in 2013, dance music’s meteoric rise into the mainstream has given way to an uncomfortable adolescence. Kaskade, a twenty year veteran who is arguably more popular than ever, has taken up the mantle of returning EDM to a state of grace, refuting hyperbole and telling fans “Let me do the heavy lifting. That’s my job. I believe 100% it [dance music] can be life-changing and uplifting when you are 100% sober.”
Please don’t break me, please don’t let me fall. Please don’t break me, and leave me nothing at all.
Atmosphere, Kaskade’s latest full-length LP, plays like a powerful and desperate plea to dance music and its fans: remember who we are and who we want to be. The opening line of the album’s first track, Last Chance, is an urgent prayer from the music itself as much as it’s the fervent request of a lover. Songs like this and the hugely popular title song Atmosphere, while possibly written off as over-indulgent or sappy, are telling a much deeper story. They chronicle Ryan Raddon’s journey through and love affair with the sounds that have come to define his style and so many dance artists after him. These large, bombastic tunes are touching, equally at home blasting over festival mains or repeating in headphones on a rainy night.
Recently Kaskade has been collaborating with a swath of artists outside his San Francisco house safe zone, putting out tracks with Skrillex, Swanky Tunes, and Dada Life. Atmosphere sees a distinct return to the sound he fell in love with and, subsequently, rode to stardom. Take Your Mind Off is a lounge lizard’s dream, groovy drums and bass combined with flowing, jazz-inspired vibraphone riffs. Ryan also takes listeners on a journey to various house music hot spots (and upcoming tour stops) where he made his name, with MIA to LAS, LAX to JFK, and SFO to ORD each representing a different but equally engaging version of traditional house music.
Not resting on his laurels, Kaskade follows in the footsteps of Above & Beyond and other dance artists who have embraced classical strings in their arrangements. The album version of No One Knows Who We Are, a drastic departure from the club-ready original, is a haunting, dense wash of piano, cellos, and effected vocals, and is one of the stand out tracks on Atmosphere. He also creates something dirty and uplifting with relative unknown Zip Zip Through The Night on Something Something, combining indie shoegaze with grungy, pulsing bass. Floating and How It Is, Atmosphere’s final tracks, are a rave lullaby, drifting away from the diversity and intensity of the album into a U2 and Late Night Alumni-inspired slumber. Kaskade regulars Haley and Debra Fotheringham provide the airy vocals that carry listeners off to sleep.
I kept it really close to home, worked with a lot of friends, people that I admire, not so much people with huge status. I wasn’t really going for that.
Atmosphere isn’t without its own shortcomings. Why Ask Why and Feelin The Night, both hard-hitting club tracks begging to be remixed, feel forced and crowded at times and don’t serve the album’s narrative as much as they could. We also question some of the decisions made in the track order, with songs like Atmosphere coming out of nowhere after LAX to JFK. There seems to be a consistent theme of the need for release after such long journeys, but we think those tracks could be better served elsewhere. There is also the question of whether or not this statement in fact represents the current state of dance music, or just how Kaskade likes to think of it.
In the end, Ryan said it best when he described singing vocals for the first time on the album’s title track. “It’s not necessarily about being a singer – it’s more about just catching the idea of the song…for me, the time was right, and it was the right song for me to sing.” Atmosphere is Kaskade’s love song to the genre and community that has made him famous, and whether or not it’s singing to you, you can feel the love.
Buy Atmosphere on iTunes: here.
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